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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Nothern Ireland - a legal legacy?

I visited Belfast for the first time last week. It is a city which has seen huge transformation over the last few years. It is modern and vibrant with a growing tourist industry – highlighted by the magnificent new Titanic Centre.

But just a couple of miles from the City Centre, there is a reminder of past troubles particularly with the so called peace line, which is more of a wall, dividing the loyalist communities of the Shankill road area and the republican communities of the Falls Road.

But the transformation is remarkable. There is also a sense of unease in certain parts, but I sensed a real commitment to putting the past behind and to move forwards.

But the legal consequences are still very much with us. This is particularly highlighted by the release, this week, of a ‘secret’ document from 1972 that followed unsuccessful talks between the UK government and republican representatives. The document talks, chillingly of protecting UK soldiers from legal action if this might inhibit them.

"The army should not be inhibited in its campaign by the threat of court proceedings and should therefore be suitably indemnified."

According to Relatives for Justice who campaign on behalf of families of victims –

‘The discovery of this document indemnifying British soldiers from the threat of court proceedings whilst they took their ‘war’ to nationalist communities with the ‘utmost vigour’ is the first official documented evidence of a policy amounting to impunity. It is a clear amnesty being put in place for what would later occur, the inevitable loss of life. In 1972 the British Army killed 79 people. Not one soldier was held to account for these killings.’

As today’s Guardian points out this is likely to lead to new legal claims being brought against the UK government for what now seems to have been a clear policy of immunity from action.

Now clearly this all happened at a different time. But this does not alter the fact that governments should be accountable for those affected by their actions even if this does not come to light until many years later.

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